Last Tuesday, it became official: the IDF (following approval from Defense Minister Barak) recognized the academic center in the settlement of Ariel as a full-fledged university. International condemnation soon followed. A UK minister, for instance, expressed disappointment regarding Israel’s decision, and labeled it an obstacle to peace.
In response, Israeli Education Minister Gideon Saar (Likud) argued that “[o]ur connection to Ariel is at least as strong as the UK’s connection to the Falkland Islands.” This comparison is quite apt because Ariel, like the Falklands, is the product of a colonial enterprise, meant to place a metropolitan population amidst a weaker people.
Furthermore, Ariel and the Falklands are both islands. Whereas the Falklands are surrounded by an ocean of water, Ariel is surrounded by Palestinians. It is at the very heart of the West Bank with very little geographic contiguity with Jewish areas of residence inside the Green Line, or even with other settlements in the West Bank. That is why any map that attempts to include it as part of Israel within a two-state solution ends up looking like it was drawn by a cubist painter.
There are distinctions, of course. Most importantly, the other claimant for sovereignty over the Falklands – Argentina – is a sovereign and independent nation. The Palestinians, who have been uprooted to make room for Ariel, are a stateless people living on lands inhabited by them for generations, kept in this position by the very Israeli power that founded and recognized the “university” in Ariel.
Perhaps the most revealing part of this comparison is that Saar, like many of my compatriots, probably sees very little difference between the actual human beings that surround Ariel and want it gone, and the indifferent seawater that surround the Falklands on every side. That might be a greater obstacle to peace than the settlement itself.